After being closed off for more than a year due to COVID-19, patrons at First Regional Library branches can one again browse the book stacks for their favorite titles.
The library re-opened the stacks on March 15 to the public after a long layoff due to health concerns.
“I think we are just as excited as patrons are to let them go back in the stacks and pull things out for themselves,” said Interim Director Jenniffer Stephenson.
The library was forced to close off the book stacks last March when the pandemic hit over concerns that touching hard surfaces could help transmit the disease.
Library staff had been following guidelines set by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, an independent federal agency, which concluded that regular use of library materials is not a cause of concern for contamination, unless someone directly coughed or sneezed onto a book. They did, however, suggest quarantining books for 24 hours between lending.
“The small amount of time that people touch a book, we felt like it would be safe if we open the stacks again,” library spokesman David Brown said.
Brown said the library continues though to require that masks be worn inside the library and is still subject to capacity and time limits.
“We are still under an executive order and other health directives and we are still asking people to wear a mask,” Brown said.
The library will still continue to offer patrons with health concerns the option of curbside pickup and curated collection trucks with items selected by library staff based on a patron’s reading interests so they don’t have to come in contact with the book stacks.
“There are still some patrons who like it when our librarians select books for them and put them on a cart so they can pull out what they like,” Stephenson said. “And we also have some patrons who might only have 30 minutes for lunch and like to be able to run down to the library, pick up their books curbside and get back in their car without having to come in and browse. It just saves time.”
The library also has expanded its electronic resources by purchasing more e-books and digital magazines, offering Internet wi-fi hotspots that can be checked out, and even mailing books to patrons who can’t get to the library and may still have health concerns.
Stephenson said she is proud of how libraries stepped up to the challenges of COVID by offering new types of services for patrons
“I think libraries really came through during this by finding creative ways to stay open,” Stephenson said. “And I think things are almost getting back to normal.”